Rick Santorum’s Authoritarian Plan for US

Rick SantorumSteve Benen brought my attention to the fact that Rick Santorum is back with his own charming form of right wing populism. He’s pushing a standard conservative Christian line that “separation of church and state” is not in the US Constitution. And he offers up a twist, “But it was in the constitution of the former Soviet Union.” Get it?! People who don’t want their government mixed with a healthy dose of church are dirty, stinking commies!

This line of reasoning has things exactly backwards. In the 1950s, the United States went Christian crazy because the Soviet Union was our enemy. The Soviet Union was nominally atheistic, but that wasn’t why they were our enemy. Regardless, that’s how we got “under God” crammed into the Pledge of Allegiance. (Here’s an experiment to try: check out the rhythm of the pledge with and without “under God” and see if you don’t think the extra words make it more clumsy.) The communist government could have been just as awful with religion. In fact, it could have been worse. Just look at our “friend” Saudi Arabia.

Another aspect of this is the childish assumption that if we don’t like a particular country, we must hate everything about it. For example, it’s not enough to hate North Korea for its oppressive slave-labor approach to its people, we must hate its flag as well. (For the record, the North Korean flag is not great, but no worse than the flags of most countries.) The truth is that the Soviety Union had a great constitution — better than our own. But as we’ve seen throughout our own history, a constitution is only as good as the government that upholds it. Regardless, it was not the Soviet constitution that was the problem with that country.

Benen pointed out the obvious fact that the phrase “separation of church and state” was a convenient condensation of an idea in the Constitution. Leo Pfeffer put it well, “[I]t was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so widely held by the American people…” But people like Rick Santorum really are childish and silly. They want to point at the Constitution and yell, “See: that phrase is nowhere to be found!” The more rigorous of them will claim that the phrase came from a letter by Jefferson, which is true. But regardless, everything they know about the subject they learned from disgraced “historian” David Barton. These are not serious people.

The real problem with Santorum is that he thinks there are certain things that everybody agrees on. This is the assurance of a Christian who lives in a country that is nearly 80% Christian. I’m sure that Santorum would quickly change his mind if there was a Muslim awakening and the religion that would be allowed to mix so liberally with government was Islam. Benen asked what religion Santorum would use. After all, Santorum is a Catholic. But I’m sure that he would just want some kind of generic Christianity — not a specific denomination. And if that doesn’t show the total lack of a theological basis to American Christianity, I don’t know what does.

It reminds me of the attempt earlier this year to make the Bible the official state book of Louisiana. The legislators wanted it to be “any copy” at the same time they claimed it wasn’t a religious statement. There are dozens of English translations of the Bible. And that doesn’t even consider that there is no consensus as to what should constitute the Bible in its original languages. And the Orthodox Tewahedo Bible contains books that aren’t even in the traditional Bible. But efforts like this are designed to carve out a generic Christian identity.

When Rick Santorum and so many others like him try to push their religion on the rest of us, it really isn’t even about religion. They are just trying to oppress us with rules about how we ought to live our secular lives. It’s a great irony that he would bring up the Soviet constitution. He’s an authoritarian. Like Stalin before him, he wants to ignore our Constitution and its traditions to push his own limited view of what other people can think and do. But it isn’t surprising. Authoritarians have always hated other authoritarians who didn’t share their particular plan of oppression.

6 thoughts on “Rick Santorum’s Authoritarian Plan for US

  1. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. “God was taken out of the schools” (which is where the folks angry about “separation of church and state” start dating their “everything going wrong” timeline) precisely because Protestants demanded it, because Catholics wanted public funding for their schools. Public schools used to feature all kinds of anti-Catholic shit in their curriculum. My SO has a textbook, used by a grandfather, that features all kinds of diatribes against the usurper of Rome and so on.

    Catholics, instructed by the Church to send their kids to Catholic school if they could afford it, were annoyed by the double tuition; paying taxes for public, anti-Catholic schools, and paying for their kids to go to private schools. They asked for “vouchers” in some cases; a more common request was for public funds to pay for the general-education portion of Catholic schools (Catholics would pony up for the religious-education percentage of classes.)

    Protestants didn’t want a single dime going to Catholic schools, so when this “government funds general education, sectarians fund the rest” meme took off, Protestants agreed with Jewish and atheist activists (none of whom they’d paid the slightest attention to before) that religion has no place in public schools. The anti-Catholic texts were replaced. That’s where “separation of church and state,” in the sense fundamentalists are mad about it, started. They started it.

    Of course, to modern fundamentalists, it was the atheistic Communists. Or someone bad. Recently, I heard that we can’t say “Christmas” instead of “Holidays” (yes, we can) because of the Muslims, who, as we know, were a major voting bloc when those anti-Catholic texts were excised. And fundamentalists were naturally behind civil rights and women’s rights all along, just as they’ll support marriage rights for gay people in ten years but claim “we just object to those who go too far, who throw their beliefs in our face.”

    And the person who told me about Muslims and “Happy Holidays” was a pro-labor liberal! Who believed “PC has gone too far”! Who isn’t religious and gets along quite well with our Muslim co-workers! And yet this individual bought the bag of bull that “PC has gone too far.” Amazing. “Mad Men”‘s depiction of advertising sleazes is nothing compared to the branding experts employed by the extreme American right. Those have been some clever, clever people.

    • I didn’t know this. This is fascinating. And it goes right along with what conservatives have done with taxes. In order to give the rich huge federal income tax cuts, they had to give the poor some tax cut. This ended up with roughly half the population not owing any of that particular tax. Then, once the system was in place, we started hearing conservatives rant about how terrible it was that the poor paid no federal income taxes — often referred to as simply “no taxes.” It is also the same as with food stamps, which were created to offset the higher costs associated of price floors. Now the conservatives wouldn’t think of touching those price floors but think food stamps are an outrage.

      I know a number of economic liberals who are socially conservative. What I don’t understand is why they have no party to represent them. With the rise of the New Democrats, there is simply no room for economic liberalism. We either have the party that couldn’t shoot straight for the oligarchs or the party that could shoot straight for the oligarchs. Why the oligarchs keep supporting the party that can’t shoot straight is complicated.

      Do you know of a book about this period of papal-protestant discontent? As it was, protestants really didn’t care about Roe v Wade at the time. They thought it was a Catholic issue. Funny how they all get together in the end. But that’s something I mentioned in the article: there really isn’t much theology in American Christianity.

      • I think the book I read on the subject was “Between Church And State” by James W. Fraser, but there are of course many more. The grandfather’s schoolbook my SO has is a McGuffey reader; they were widespread for decades and had lots of different editions, some with more anti-Catholic stuff, some with less. (Aside from the lunatic religious shit, it isn’t that bad, really!)

        I’d guess, though I may be wrong, that American Catholics actually poll more liberal about abortion than fundamentalist Protestants. That’s purely from personal experience, no data.

        The no theology thing is pretty funny, given that once upon a time theology was the reason for every sectarian split. Somewhere, back in the day, there was some interpretation of some Bible verse that separated Lutherans from Presbyterians from Baptists, and each subdivision of those sects, and so on. I’d be shocked if preachers in those churches today knew what the original divisions were about. Now the divisions are largely political, not theological (some of these people are the socially conservative liberals you mention, some Hell No.) Maybe the divisions were always political but used fights over Bible language as a surrogate for the political stuff; that wouldn’t be surprising!

        It’s vastly important to bring religious liberals into our camp. We’ve got human lives and a planet to save; whether or not we embrace gay people or wave a disapproving tut-tut finger at them while acknowledging their basic rights is a debate that can wait until later (as long as we agree to honor those basic rights.) I recall watching those silly/entertaining videos by the guy “Logicked” and thinking the best one was where he took on a quieter, less loony German pastor. I imagine the two of them could probably enjoy hashing it out in a Dusseldorf beer garden; I’ve enjoyed debating religious Danish liberals. (It was the upwardly-mobile Danish TED Talks-type atheists I had problems with!)

        I think this is a major big deal. Naomi Klein in her new global-warming book goes on at length about the necessity of listening to indigenous people, an important and wise point. We also must reach out to the religious economic liberals, because if we don’t, the bad guys will.

        • I’ll try to find the book. It isn’t at the library. I have a set of McGuffey readers around here somewhere. I’m not sure the date. Over time, they’ve taken out the more overtly bigoted stuff. But that’s always something that I wonder about conservatives: don’t they see that they constantly have to abandon their previous views. How long can one maintain such certainty in the face of a long string of losses?

          The thing about America Catholics is that as a group they just aren’t that religious. They go to mass, they go to confession, and they leave it at that. There are, of course, conservative Catholics who are total idiots like Ross Douthat. But most don’t take it that serious — certainly not as seriously as the evangelicals.

          I would think (Hope!) that the preachers would know the difference between the different denominations. But I don’t think the people are too clear on it. And that raises the question, “Why do you go to this church?” And other than it being the one of their childhoods, they don’t have a good answer.

          I’m with you on reaching out. You know me: it is all about economics.

    • No. It was Catholics who sued in 1890 (look up the Edgerton Bible Case) to take the heretic King James Bible out of public schools because everybody knows that only the Douay Bible is the true word of god {/snark}

      • I suspect you are both right. This isn’t a one-time thing. This battle has been going on from the beginning of the founding of the country.

        The Douay Bible is one of the favorites of Catholics, but the church itself has no official English language Bible — probably because from their perspective, the Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew texts are the official ones. With all its problems, I greatly respect the Catholic Church’s erudition.

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